Warning, extra long blog here: not edited for length: just going off the top of my head: may be edited later, but I doubt it:
Well, yesterday I ran in my first trail run at the Cat Classic Off Road Run Race in Cascade, Pa. near Williamsport. The course officially was 7.57 miles and, as mentioned previously, according to a course elevation graph (http://catclassic.net/bikepath.jpg) had 3.52 miles of total uphill climb. I finished in just under two hours, which is about a 15:57 minute mile, but considering the terrain and the elevation, I’ll gladly take it.
The race started at 9 a.m. Saturday. With the race being about 2 hours away, I opted to stay in a motel the night before. As also mentioned previously, I was going to stay with a friend who lives about 10 miles away, but then plans fell through there as he was going out of town — and then suddenly he wasn’t, but my wife already had made the reservations, and we decided to stick with the motel. I did still go to see my friend Friday afternoon and we went to see “Spider Man 3,” which wasn’t as good as the first two, but still was pretty good.
After seeing the movie and taking my friend home, I wanted to get something to eat for dinner since all I had eaten all day was a bag of chips and some popcorn at the movie theater. On the east side of Williamsport is a section called the Golden Mile, which has restaurants all along it. I drove past all of them, and continued a lot farther into Williamsport and ended up at a local place called Joey’s Place and had a cheesesteak there. For not being in Philly, it was pretty good — even though it had lettuce and tomato on it (WTF?) but a good sauce that made up for that– and was just what I needed.
Unfortunately, Friday night, I didn’t get to bed until late, probably about 1:30 and got up at 6:30. Check-in for the race was from 7 to 8:30. I grabbed a bagel and a glass of OJ at the continental breakfast at the motel and then grabbed a candy bar and a large water on the way to the race, which was about I’d guess 10 miles from the motel.
When I got there and checked in, I asked if I was the only runner in the race (when I had e-mailed last week, one of the organizers there said I was the first, but he was hoping more people would sign up by this week) and learned that I was not. I saw about 10 to 15 other names on a list, plus some were both running and biking in a duathlon, probably about 30 total runners and bikers together. The Cat Classic was originally started as just a bike race, with three different classes: a beginner’s class, a sports class and a pro class, and this year expanded to a trail run and a duathlon also.
Before the race, I talked with a few others who were running in the race, including a couple who were from near Harrisburg. They said they had run in a previous trail run near Delaware, I believe, the weekend before, and that had been their first trail race. Another man said this was only his third trail run. But I could tell they were going to be much quicker than I was: especially the guys who had that lean, tall runner physique which I definitely do not have.
The funniest comment, though, had to be from one runner who said he had been out on the course before on the bike race and said that there would be some mud, but that you could find your way around those spots on the trail. Why this was funny was because as I learned after I got out on the trail, in some places, there was no getting around the mud. You just had to tramp through; all I could do was laugh as I stomped through it and the little streams along the course that you couldn’t avoid for trying.
I won’t be able to give a mile by mile breakdown, because well, I didn’t have a pedometer with me and the course wasn’t marked and where there were people directing runners around the course, none of them knew how many miles I had gone. There was only one place that a woman actually told me and that was at about 5.5 miles, but I didn’t have a watch or my iPod on (even though I had it with me the whole time — what a waste: more on that later). However, in spite of not being able to give you a mile by mile breakdown, I’ll give you a brief (yeah, right, like I can do that) rundown of the race as I remember it.
The race started in a pole barn full of Caterpillar tractors, hence the title of the race, the Cat Classic. The man whose farm we were on is a collector of the machine equipment. He is a tool and die maker from Montoursville, or so somebody there told me. The first few miles were like other cross country runs I had been on when I was in high school: across fields and through woods. In the woods is where it became a little more of what is called “technical,” with runners having to dodge rocks, tree roots, muds and streams.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t run the entire thing; I ended up walking more than half of it. I was wearing a pair of old road running shoes, not trail shoes, because the trail shoes I have haven’t been broken in yet. I didn’t want to risk blisters, so instead I risked getting my feet wet and destroying what had been a good pair of shoes, which I promptly did. Plus I didn’t want to risk a sprained ankle. All I could think was that I might sprain my ankle or fall and break a kneecap and then I wouldn’t be able to run the rest of the summer, so I took it easy through the rocky sections, which was a good portion of the run.
In addition to all the other hazards were hills, complete with all the other hazards. And some of these hills were…well, brutal. I tried running some and then some, especially toward the end, I walked and almost crawled up, not quite an exaggeration.
Cutting to the chase, at the end of the race was a brutal two miles. Shortly after the aforementioned water station, where the woman told me I had gone about 5.5 miles, I ended up coming out now near the pole barn, which made me think I was near the end. But then after running up past a fire tower, and through a shed there, a marshal told me that no, I wasn’t finished yet, that I had to go down a hill. Of course, I knew that meant that I would have to come back up it too. The hill was the worse on the course, because it was straight up. It wasn’t very long, but it seemed like it was forever. Halfway up, someone had put a homemade cardboard sign with a 😦 face on it that said underneath it: “Suck it up.” All I could think was “suck it up, buttercup.” And at that point, I stopped to catch my breath a few times, plus my calves were really starting to ache. I realized while I hadn’t run at full speed, I probably had pushed myself beyond what I should have. I did make it up the hill and on the other side was the finish, in the barn. Before I got there, people were lining the course and a few shouted “looking good” and “You can do it” and “You don’t have much farther now.” I told one of the people “thanks” and headed to the finish line. On my way into the barn, one of the volunteers working the clock told me to push it because I was close to making it under 2 hours. I looked at the clock and saw it was at 1:59 something when I crossed. The official results weren’t up as of today, but I know I made it under 2 hours.
Afterwards, I jokingly asked a woman near where I had checked in, where I could find the man who had organized the race. I said I wanted to tell him I would hit him — if I only had the strength. Before the race, he told all the runners at a runners’ meeting, in front of a backhoe, that we really wouldn’t like him after the race, especially after the last three miles, but that he took great pride in that abuse. Afterwards, I confirmed for him that he was right: I hated him: of course, jokingly saying that.
In truth, in conclusion, I loved the course and was so much different than any other race I have done. After having done this and a half marathon (which as mentioned previously, to me was as boring as all get out, because it was out and back on a paved path), I think doing a road 5K or 10K will seem as nothing to me.
Tonight, I talked with a local biker who did the course (and placed first in the sport class) and was surprised to learn that he did the entire thing without leaving his bike once. I am truly amazed that anyone could bike the entire course without at least walking once, especially considering the mud, the streams and rocks, and hills that were incredible. I also learned from him about another bike trail nearby that I could use as a trail run. He showed the map to me online at his bike club’s website. I can’t wait to get out on them in the near future, as I prepare for the Half Wit Half Marathon near Reading in August. I’ll probably have to walk some to start, until I get used to them, but then I plan to run as much as I can.
Of course, I’ll keep y’all posted as I progress on this journey.
P.S. Yes, I am in pain today, especially my calves and tonight my hamstrings. But I’m resting from running, at least until Tuesday and probably will cut out strength training tomorrow. I need to do more stretching in the future and continue my strength training.